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Grizzly Photo Gallery Grizzly Video Clip 1 Credit Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

Species Description:  Grizzly bears are generally larger and more heavily built than other bears.  Grizzly bears can be distinguished from black bears, which also occur in the lower 48 States, by longer, curved claws, humped shoulders, and a face that appears to be concave.  A wide range of coloration from light brown to nearly black is common.  Spring shedding, new growth, nutrition, and coat conditions all affect coloration.  Guard hairs are often pale in color at the tips; hence the name "grizzly."  In the lower 48 States, the average weight of grizzly bears is generally 400 to 600 pounds for males and 250 to 350 pounds for females.  Grizzly bears are long lived mammals and generally live to be around 25 years old.

Background:  When Lewis and Clark explored the West in the early 1800s, an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains, across vast stretches of open and unpopulated land.  But when pioneers moved in, bears were persecuted and their numbers and range drastically declined.  As European settlement expanded over the next hundred years, towns and cities sprung up, and habitat for these large omnivores--along with their numbers--shrunk drastically.  Today, with the western United States inhabited by millions of Americans, only a few small corners of grizzly country remain, supporting about 1,200 - 1,400 wild grizzly bears.  Of 37 grizzly populations present in 1922, 31 were extirpated by 1975.

In 1975, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grizzly bear as a threatened species in the Lower 48 States under the Endangered Species Act, placing the species under federal protection.

Locations:  Today, grizzly bear distribution is primarily within but not limited to the areas identified as Recovery Zones including--the Yellowstone area in northwest Wyoming, eastern Idaho, and southwest Montana (9,200 square miles (sq mi)) at more than 580 bears; the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of north central Montana (9,600 sq mi) at more than 400 bears; the North Cascades area of north central Washington (9,500 sq mi) at less than 20 bears; the Selkirk Mountains area of northern Idaho, northeast Washington, and southeast British Columbia (2,200 sq mi) at approximately 40 to 50 bears; and the Cabinet Yaak area of northwest Montana and northern Idaho (2,600 sq mi) at approximately 30 to 40 bears.  There is an additional Recovery Zone known as the Bitterroot Recovery Zone in the Bitterroot Mountains of east central Idaho and western Montana (5,600 sq mi) but this area does not contain any grizzly bears at this time.  The San Juan Mountains of Colorado also were identified as an area of possible grizzly bear occurrence, but no evidence of grizzly bears has been found in the San Juan Mountains since a bear was killed there in 1979.

Recovery:  In 1981, the Service hired a grizzly bear recovery coordinator to direct recovery efforts and to coordinate all agency efforts on research and management of grizzly bears in the lower 48 States.  Recovery of the grizzly bear covers four states and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regions.  The initial Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was completed in 1982. A revised Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan included additional tasks and new information that increased the focus and effectiveness of recovery efforts.  The national grizzly bear recovery coordinator contact information:

Dr. Chris Servheen
University Hall, Room 309
University of Montana
Missoula, Montana 59812
telephone 406-243-4903
fax 406-329-3212

For more information on recovery in each of these ecosystems, visit the individual web pages.

 Grizzly Bear Ecosystems:







Tips for Living and Recreating in Grizzly Bear Country